The industry needs to "unlearn" how it defines games, argued veteran game designer Mark Cerny at last year's GDC Europe while discussing the rise of social and mobile games.
He's had more than a little experience with transitions in the industry, having gone from making classic arcade games like Marble Madness, to working on console platformers like Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and even lending a hand to modern blockbusters like Resistance and Uncharted.
"Unlearning is where you take the lessons that you paid for in blood, and you throw them out and you start all over again," said Cerny. "it's very hard to do. And we now have to do that with what we believe a game to be, those of us who are making those triple-a console titles.
Cerny expects it's going to take developers 20 years to unlearn their current preconceptions of what makes a game (e.g. narrative, death, endings, chances to fail). Why so long? The industry is slow to change, and he says that many developers are still unlearning the lessons of the golden age of the arcade 30 years later.
For example, many of those games were distinguished by being notoriously difficult and killing players willy-nilly. "You had to kill the player once a minute. ... Marble Madness was four minutes long. We needed players to earn that over the course of several months. So that level of difficulty was just required."
He said that because of that mindset, developers would add features in games just to make them harder, and continued making them needlessly difficult or punishing even as games became longer. "The idea is still, for no reason at all, if you aren't dying, it's not a game," Cerny added.
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